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Orlando Sentinel

Florida has only 2 Michelin-starred restaurants led by women — Capa’s Malyna Si is one of them

By Amy Drew Thompson, Orlando Sentinel,

Chef Malyna Si is pictured at the Capa Steakhouse, the Michelin star rated restaurant on the 17th floor rooftop of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Malyna Si, 35, helms the kitchen at Capa , a steakhouse where the average entree off the fiery parrilla runs about $80, at a Four Seasons property where the least expensive room averages $1,495 a night.

One of her favorite items on the menu is the Ibérico Pluma ($55), an inarguably gorgeous dish that features the “feather” cut of this prized Spanish pig, which is incredibly rich in intramuscular fat and hence, incredibly flavorful.

She will wax romantic about the dish later in our conversation, but for the moment, Si — a Philadelphia native and one of just two women in the state to run a Michelin-starred restaurant — is content to talk cheesesteak.

“There was this place in northeast Philadelphia called Prince Pizza on Wyoming Avenue, right at the end of my street,” she recalls with nostalgia. “We’d go there often and get slices for $1 — and they had a great cheesesteak.”

Outside of locally made “junk food,” though, Si, the daughter of immigrant parents, never ate fast food and still doesn’t. (Though she does harbor a fondness for Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, since she grew up in the shadow of the factory.)

“My father is Cambodian and my mother is Vietnamese and Chinese and I grew up with them always cooking,” she says. “I never bought my lunches. I grew up around home-cooked Asian food.”

She finds it amusing that she’s never cooked Asian fare in a professional setting, but it was through family that she acquired her first taste of kitchen life. Si’s parents divorced when she was 8 and while her dad’s Cambodian cooking was solid — she cites a simple soup of prawns, lime and a green-onion garnish as a stellar favorite — “he could only do a few things … and that’s when I started cooking because I wanted more variety.”

It wasn’t a career choice just yet — Si has a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture — but fell hard for the kitchen while working on her degree in Las Vegas. It began as a college job.

“It was my first experience with hospitality and cooking professionally, and I really loved it,” she says. “I’d get there early. I’d leave late. I was only doing prep but I just loved it so much.”

It’s a passion that saw her rise from lead cook — where she started upon joining the Capa team five years ago — through the roles of chef de partie, sous chef and chef de cuisine before taking the lead as restaurant chef.

Not surprisingly — and not unlike many Michelin recipients — Si was working when news of the selection filtered back via text from the soiree. At that time, Capa was already averaging between 200 and 250 covers a night, and the news flew in around 8:30 p.m.

“That’s our busiest time because that’s when the fireworks are happening,” Si chuckles, noting that there’s a lot of movement in the restaurant at that time as they coordinate firing the grills with the explosive Disney light show.

Before long, the cooks had told the servers, and the servers were telling the tables.

“They couldn’t contain it,” she says. “We were all bewildered — we couldn’t believe it — but also so excited.”

Si says it still seems unreal.

“It matters so much, though, because it’s the manifestation of all the hard work that my team has done. It matters in the sense that someone out there recognizes that what you’re doing is exceptional, even when what you’re doing is just your day-to-day.”

March is Women’s History Month. And last year, Si became a significant part of Orlando’s culinary history. Of Florida’s. And part of a very exclusive club.

Last year, a study by Chef’s Pencil — which analyzed more than 2,000 Michelin-starred restaurants in 16 countries among other top-ranked venues — found that just 6 percent of those recognized in the Guide have a female head chef.

“Whether you’re a woman or a man, Michelin is a very exclusive club,” she says, noting some of her idols — Hélène Darroze, Dominique Crenn, Ann-Sophie Pic — are women whose restaurants have earned Michelin stars.

“It’s just incredible to be recognized in this manner.”

The Four Seasons Orlando, she says, employs a number of women in high-level leadership positions, but women in the larger culinary world are often still fighting an uphill battle.

She says women are “...constantly having to prove you belong there — being faster, stronger, knowing more — when, in fact, everyone who’s there has gotten there the same way.”

It’s not just a job for Si, though.

“I live and breathe this,” she says. “It’s not something I clock in and out of. And it’s really great to work with people who share this vision …who love what they’re doing, who want to provide the best.”

With spring coming, the best is set to rotate as something like 20 new items are planned. (The Ibérico Pluma is staying put, though; she urges those unfamiliar to try it.)

“I’m extremely excited to be adding a Wagyu tasting that will include American, Australian and Japanese Wagyu — side by side,” she confides, though its presentation is still being sorted out. “I think being able to try and compare them will be a really unique experience for the guests.”

Find me on Facebook, TikTok, Twitter or Instagram @amydroo or on the OSFoodie Instagram account @orlando.foodie . Email: . For more foodie fun, join the Let’s Eat, Orlando Facebook group .

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